Gosport Borough - the story so far

Gosport Borough Athletic, as the club were originally known, were formed just two weeks after D-Day in 1944. However, it is fair to say that despite their 70 year history, the club have only really made a name for themselves in the last eight years - climbing the non-league pyramid again after a long period in the doldrums and appearing in last year’s FA Trophy Final.

Gosport Borough Athletic was founded as the town’s combined football, athletics, swimming and cycling club and the football section tasted early success as they moved from the Portsmouth & District League into the Hampshire League at the end of their first season with a team that included Jimmy Scoular and Peter Harris – both of whom went on to become full internationals.

But despite winning the Hampshire League at their first attempt in 1945/46, dropping the “Athletic” in the 1960s and over the decades being a major force in county football, silverware was rare at Privett Park and the Championship was not realised again until back-to-back titles in 1976/77 and 1977/78.

The two Hampshire League titles led to a successful application to join the Southern League for 1978/79 and a period of 14 seasons in the (then) upper echelons of the non-league game began.

After four seasons at the top end of the Southern League’s Southern Division, promotion was won to the Premier Division for 1982/83 - at the time an equivalent level to today’s Conference South. The Boro’ spent seven seasons in the Premier Division in total before a disastrous season in 1989/90 saw the club finish bottom and relegated to the Southern Division.

This marked the start of the club’s downturn in fortunes. Despite surviving the following season, Gosport finished rock-bottom of the division in 1991/92 and were relegated back to county football (now in the guise of the Wessex League).

The club attempted to compete for a couple of seasons and did lift the Wessex League Cup in 1993 but with the club struggling for money and crowds minimal, a major rethink was required.

Then Chairman Ian Hay decided that a financial restructuring of the club was required and he set up a trustee scheme which kept the club alive through their darkest days and is still in existence today - helping to support the club with fans providing regular income.

Nevertheless, it was not until the start of the new century that things started to turn for the better at The Boro’. John Stimpson succeeded Hay as chairman and he promoted reserve team manager Mick Marsh to the first team. With the club emerging from their financial difficulties, promotion back to the Southern League was back on the agenda. Marsh chased the dream for five seasons, finishing in the top four in four of them before he retired in 2005 but the title and promotion eluded him.

With the club now focussed on promotion, John Robson was appointed but after a difficult relationship between boardroom and manager, the club replaced him within months and in December 2005 current manager Alex Pike arrived at Privett Park.

Pike had managerial acumen in abundance at Wessex League level having already won the Championship at other clubs and also led Wimborne Town to victory in the FA Vase in 1992. Given the job of achieving the board’s goal, he guided the team to the title on goal difference in his first full season (2006/07). And so started Boro’s recent meteoric rise.

With the club back in the Southern League in 2007/08, the board made their intentions clear to continue to climb the Pyramid but The Boro’s priority had to be survival both on the pitch and financially. A series of mid-table finishes made it look like the club had consolidated their position but the spark required on the pitch eluded Pike’s squad and a serious challenge never materialised in their first four seasons.

However in 2011/12, following an average start to the season, something suddenly ignited in the squad. The team gelled, the results came and they climbed the table - eventually holding on to third spot and a play-off place despite a late wobble.

The play-offs saw Boro’ dispatch near neighbours Sholing before heading to Poole Town for a final Boro’ were losing until an injury time Steve Claridge strike sent the game to extra time. Two goals without reply in the additional 30 minutes saw Boro’ promoted back to the Southern League Premier Division for the first time since 1990.

Once again, promotion brings thoughts of consolidation - more so after a poor start to the 2012/13 campaign saw Pike’s men in danger of relegation back to the South & West Division.

But a decent FA Cup run was a precursor to an unbeaten run of 23 games which lifted The Boro’ from the relegation zone into a play-off place (which was secured on the final day of the season).

Again, Boro’ were to be victorious in the play-offs as the rank outsiders saw off second placed Stourbridge in the semi before leading Hemel Hempstead Town 2-0 in the final only to concede two late goals before winning promotion on penalties.

So the board’s planned rise from county football to Conference South was complete and Gosport started 2013/14 once again looking to establish themselves at a new level. But like the season before, Boro’ struggled to find their feet at the new level and after flirting with the relegation zone for much of the season, it took another cup run to gain the belief needed lift the team clear of danger.

An FA Trophy run which started in November in the third qualifying round as a distraction to a side with only two league wins, ended with The Boro’ playing beneath the Wembley Arch in a final against Cambridge United in front of over 18,000. The result on the day saw United run out 4-0 winners after Boro’ shipped two morale sapping goals either side of the break but the belief that flowed through the squad as a result of the Trophy run put Gosport back on track and lifted them away from the relegation zone and into a comfortable mid-table place.

The club were able to plough the financial windfall from the FA Trophy run back into the club's infrastructure and during the summer of 2014 a number of improvements were made at Privett Park including the installation of a new hospitality suite/club office building and a state-of-the-art pitch irrigation system.

Boyed by the successes of the previous year, 2014/15 was a season when the club felt they had properly arrived in the Conference South.

A solid start to the league season saw The Boro’ well placed in the league and challenging in the upper reaches of the table.

The confidence gained from the league campaign helped the club finally make the first round proper of the FA Cup for the first time in their 70 year history. The Borough hosted Colchester United of League One in a tie that attracted over 2,000 fans to the ground. Gosport acquitted themselves well on the afternoon in a memorable match, but ultimately lost to the Football League side 6-3.

Gosport continued to mount a sold league campaign and were well placed for a play-off place until a little wobble in March saw them drop just too far off the pace – eventually finishing sixth. But the club did have the consolation of lifting the Hampshire Senior Cup for the first time since 1988 and seeing Justin Bennett pick up the award for the Conference South’s leading goalscorer.

The 2015-16 season got off to a good start with the club pushing themselves into play-off contention from the off but as the new year came, the club were hit with financial problems. Several players left the club in February and March after the club failed to pay their wages and an unpaid tax bill meant The Boro' were under a transfer embargo and could not replace the players they'd lost.

The form that had Alex Pike's men looking certain for a play-off place disappeared and the last few weeks of the season became a struggle with the team recording only one win in their remaining ten league games.

Talismanic striker Justin Bennett also announced that after nine seasons at Privett Park, he would leave the club at the end of the season but the 2015-16 campaign did at least end on a high with a 2-1 win against AFC Portchester in the Russell Cotes Cup Final and with Bennett recording his 262nd and 263rd goals in Gosport colours.

Where next?

Our records RECORDS: Best league position | 6th in Conference South 2014/15 Best

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